Chasing the Tour - Week 3

August 02, 2019 10 min read

Tour De France Chasing The Tour

In the third and final instalment from the roads of 2019 Tour de France, Jamie continues with his incredible travel adventure #ChasingTheTour including the exciting final week in the Alps and onto Paris.

 

Sunday 21 July - Stage 15

Drove from Pau to Limaux. It was a 3-hour journey on horrible dual carriageways full of CRS and police convoys.

I got to the stage start and milled around the team buses. As I met up with Gary, he spotted Sir Bradley Wiggins. We called Bradley over and had a chat with him for 5 mins and we both got the obligatory selfie. Bradley is very approachable and chatting to him is always entertaining.

After the race passed, it was then back on the motorway to drive to Nîmes. This was around 2.5 hours which wasn't helped by the fact that it was getting very hot outside.

With Sir Bradley Wiggins!

 

Monday 22 July - Second Rest Day

Hot, hot, hot. Gary went to meet some of his Richmond Cycling Club friends to ride Mont Ventoux, however, I decided to opt for a 108km spin. It was an average temp of 37c with a max of 46c. The last 20km was truly awful.

I was sensible and didn’t go hard at all whilst always making sure one of my two bidons was full of water. I went through around 14 bottles on the ride. I spent the afternoon chilling in my air-conditioned room.

In the evening I went for some drinks with Gary and got talking to a Tim and Andrew who worked for NTT - the people who bring you all the timings and positions of the riders in the race.

Rest day activities off the bike!

 

Tuesday 23 July - Stage 16

Another hot day, so decided to be sensible and not go for a ride today.

Got a message from Tim that he had left something for me in his hotel’s reception. I went down there and much to my surprise he gifted me a Dimension Data team tracksuit top. Very generous of Tim, I met him in the paddock area where the team buses parked and expressed my thanks.

Went round the buses and I secured one of the selfies that had been eluding me - the current Olympic road race champion Greg Van Avermaet - this was very cool to get! Again, another splendid and approachable rider.

I moved to the EF Education First team bus and chatted to their DS, Tom Southam, about the cricket World Cup and how their riders would prepare for today’s stage, given the heat, and we discussed my trip and how Tom’s race has been going so far.

I also had a chat with Tom Scully, a New Zealander with EF who also raced in the U.K. for Madison Genesis for a few seasons. Tom had recognised me and had seen me at the roadside on quite a few of the stages. On the Peyresourde he even gave me a quick wave as he rode past. It was nice to chat with Tom, a world-class elite athlete, but also a bloke doing his best at a very hard job.

I then went back to my air-conditioned room to watch the race on TV. It was brutally hot.  As the riders approached 30km to go, I walked down to the finish area.

I chatted briefly to Daniel Friebe and a few of the riders. It was an odd finish as Ineos didn’t have their bus there - the riders just rode straight to their hotel - so it looked like the media/press were a little wrong-footed.

Astana had all their riders together at the line, probably to give their take on Fuglsang’s withdrawal, and they all then duly arrived at the bus en masse with Alexey Lutsenko ten minutes after all the other riders.

 

 

 

Wednesday 24 July - Stage 17

I got up and left Nîmes pretty early, I wanted to ride Mont Ventoux ahead of seeing the race go through Vaison la Romaine. I parked up in Malaucène and cycled over the non-famous Col du Madeleine to Bédoin.

I’m now quite familiar with Ventoux having done the Cingles a few times, and once taking a 2 week holiday at the bottom, I had also seen the TdF race up it a few times.

On leaving Bédoin and riding the early/easy kilometres, I sensed today was not a day to ride the giant of Provence. It was already 38c and I wasn’t feeling like I’d get to the top in time.

So I turned around and did a rolling loop through the vineyards of Gigondas and Vaqueros, I still did over 1000m climbing and 60km in the heat.

Thankfully or luckily, I got to Vaison la Romaine just in time to see the riders pass.
I then jumped in the car and drove to my hotel in Albertville. I didn’t stop when I saw it, it was a hole, 1 star. I pulled over into a lay-by and cancelled my booking (Booking.com free cancellation comes in handy when following the TdF). I got a room in the Ibis budget in Albertville.

The downside to the new hotel, was that there was no bar or restaurant, so I walked the 4km into the town centre and then walked back to my hotel. The thing you must remember is in the Alps in the summertime is out of season so most of the bars and eateries are all closed.

Luckily, there was a pizza shack in a shopping centre car park opposite my hotel. I had a pizza and made friends with the owner, I had a feeling I’ll be seeing quite a bit of him over the next three days.

 

Thursday 25 July - Stage 18

I drove to Saint Martin d’Arc and then cycled to the stage finish in Valloire via the Col de Telegraph.

I suffered today, I am either not a three-week race person or I suffer in the heat.

Once at Valloire I treated myself to a three-course lunch, then found a nice doorstep to sit in and watched the race on a big screen. Once the race reached the Galibier, the crowd’s atmosphere quickly turned into an electric with everyone quiet, intense and focusing on their great French hope.

Once Alaphilppe rejoined the group on the descent, a huge roar erupted and the partisan crowd and most neutrals I imagine let out a big sigh of relief.

Pandemonium as the race went past us, Alaphilippe really is the darling of France at the moment. Once the race was over, I did the short climb to the top of the Telegraph and descended to the bottom in the middle of a very wet and dark electrical storm.

It was made a little more exciting by having team cars and motorbikes pass us, with headlights on. I drove back, showered, watched a bit of Netflix and then went to say hello to my pizza man. I had his shack’s special with was basically a pepperoni pizza with an egg on it. Lovely.

 

Friday 26 July - Stage 19

A stifling, air-free night at my hotel.

One thing you miss and really appreciate when you lose it is air conditioning. I just got up, jumped in car and headed for Bourg Saint Maurice. I found the hospital car park and got changed into my Lycra.

Parking in France is great, basically you can park anywhere unless there’s a sign saying you can’t - the reverse of parking in the UK - it seems to be free in most places too.

I had ridden here before, up to the Iseran so I knew what to expect.

Today it was a fraction cooler, low 30c’s. I felt a lot better on the bike and was enjoying my ride up the mountain. The team buses and coaches passed and I rode in to Tignes to grab a bite for lunch.

It seemed to be expat central here with the Union flag flying from most balconies.

Once I’d eaten, I cycled up to the main road and decided to stay there as opposed to riding to the top, the forecast was thunderstorms and I did not want to be stuck on the wrong side of the closed road if the weather closed in.

I got chatting to an English couple during a rain shower. Then the caravan passed, after this i crossed the road and was standing next to the mountain side of the road as opposed to the valley side.

There was a bit more protection from the high winds. Then it happens - the heavens opened as if they had been saving up all that shit weather up for this very day. Wind, freezing rain, hail and darkness. Only 1 hour before it had been a lovely day.

I bought a €10 TdF umbrella and tried to stop shaking. You could have been in full winter cycling kit and still felt the cold. After around an hour of shivering, we were expecting the race in 15-30 minutes time.

A Dutch family next to me were giving updates on the race and said it had been neutralised. I thought if that’s the case I’m heading straight back to the car, then the father said the stage was cancelled. You could tell he was right as streams of people started to head back to their cars.

I gifted my brolly to a little old French lady, she now had two and raced down the freezing mountain. I was not suffering from speed wobbles but my from my front wheel shaking due to me being so cold.

Once I got down to about 500m altitude the warmth kicked in. I raced back to the car and got in just before the storm hit. I drove back, got a pizza and tucked myself into bed. That’s the first cancelled stage I’d ever been to.

 

Saturday 27 July - Stage 20

The plan was for me to see the stage start today and then pick my girlfriend, Roxanne, up from Lyon airport.

However the weather meant the stage start was pushed back to start the same time that Rox’s flight landed.

So today I didn’t see any of the TdF apart from team trucks on the motorway.

But that was okay as I got to pick up Rox and see her again after what feels like a very long 3 weeks.

Feeling someone cuddle you and hold your hand is something we probably all take for granted, but not today. It was so good to see her and Rox was then treated to a near 4-hour drive up the interior of France to Paris.

We checked into our hotel and then headed out up to Monmartre (in the northern section of the city) for some dinner.

 

Sunday 29 July - Stage 21

A wonderful morning and afternoon of sightseeing with Roxanne. Paris really is one of the world’s most beautiful cities and without doubt, it’s certainly my favourite.

Around 1800 we made our way to the usual meeting point - the chemist on the left by the Arc d’Triomphe as you look at it. It’s the last building on the Champs Elysee. You may think a chemist is an odd choice, or not depending on your view of cycling, but it’s a French chemist so it has a toilet and sells champagne. Rox and I met up with Gary, Lorraine and David with his wife Selina plus our friend Ritchie and his Dad and cousin.

We watched the riders lap, quaffed champagne and danced with the celebrating Colombian fans. The Paris stage is a party for anyone and everyone.

Once the racing had finished Dave, Selina, Rox and I made our way to a hotel for some G&Ts. This just happens to be the hotel Ineos, Movistar, FdJ and Trek were staying in.

I had chats with so many riders, plus I bumped into Wiggo again who very briefly introduced me to his coach who helped him win in 2012. The highlight chat was with Luke Rowe and also sitting down for a long chin wag with Mikel Landa (see my top 10 memories). Then I was exiting in the rotating door with Nico Portal, DS at Ineos, when I asked him

“Are all your riders back in bed now?”

He replied, “No, they are up like that one there!”

He was pointing to the car park. I looked and there was Egan Bernal looking slightly bewildered at was had happened to him over the last 48 hours. He was alone so I went over and introduced myself.

I asked if I could get a photo and a team helper came over to take some. I ended the 2019 TdF by meeting the winner, shaking his hand, congratulating him and leaving him to think about how he’s going to spend the every summer trying to achieve what he achieved in 2019.

I couldn’t have scripted a better way to end my Tour de France adventure.

Rox and I then departed and went to our hotel. Tomorrow we drive back to the UK, back to work and to think about how to approach the 2020 TdF (Route announced Tuesday 15 October).

 

The 2019 Tour de France highlights

Top 10 moments in no particular order and there was a struggle to cull to 10

  1. Doing a stage in the Mavic Car - I doubt I will ever beat this day
  2. Celebrating outside Alaphilippe’s hotel in Pau after his TT stage win - it was sheer joy.
  3. Dowsett Fist Pump on Belles Fille - mid-race banter with a rider is class.
  4. Landa Chat - chatting to Lando in Paris at a table. He recognised me from previous tours and wanted to see my photos from start to finish! We also chatted about the remainder of his season and if he thinks he will ever win the tour (he didn't think it is likely).
  5. Impey celebrating - being in the right place at the right time.
  6. Meeting Bernal in Paris - I think this is the 10th Tour winner I have met, all of them are charming.
  7. Meeting Rox at Lyon - to see someone familiar and to have a hug - priceless.
  8. Planche de Belle Filles - a climb that I had not done and it had been on my list for some time.
  9. Stage One - seeing the Tour for the first time in a year is such a buzz.
  10. Meeting all the great people along the way who add to my memories of my TdF - Mavic, Team UAE, NTT guys, Rupert Guinness….the list goes on.


I’d like to end this blog series by thanking you for taking the time to read it.

Hopefully, I have tempted you into seeing the TdF, ride a bike or do something, even non-cycling, that you’ve always dreamt of doing.

To follow the Tour from start to finish was a dream of mine since I was at school and it lived up to and passed all my expectations. It also exceeded how worn out I would be by the end of it. I would also like to thank Gary for sharing a passion and being an all-round top guy, Rox for accepting that cycling and the Tour are a massive part of who I am and for embracing it, my daughter Freya for liking all your gifts from the caravan (you will), and to Andy at Prendas for giving me the opportunity to share something that I couldn’t imagine a Summer without.

I would like to finally thank the riders, without whom none of this would be possible. The tour is the greatest show on earth and it is the actors that make the show what it is. It’s been a pleasure to follow you all.

For me, next is the RideLondon Classic followed by the 2019 World Championships in Yorkshire.

But nothing will compare to the TdF, Why?

It’s simple, the Tour is the Tour!



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